Comparing Japanese and Okinawan

Hello,

I’ve been talking with a certain reader, E.K., over email for a while now, and the discussion turned to the Okinawan language, called Uchinaaguchi (沖縄口/ウチナーグチ). E.K. has some first-hand experience with Okinawan and helped to explain the differences. Because information on Okinawan language is so rare, especially in English, I wanted to share this with readers and for reference.

In Japan, Okinawan language is often considered a dialect (hōgen 方言) of Japanese, however, in linguistics they’re considered different, though related languages.1 The difference between Japanese and Okinawan might be compared to something like Spanish and French. They have a common ancestry, but diverged a long, long time ago.2 They are part of the “Japonic” language family which includes other languages too.

In fact, the Ryukyu Islands have not one, but several languages called Ryukyu languages. Okinawan is the language spoken on the main island, Okinawa. If you look at the southern Ryukyu Islands, the languages become noticeably different from both Okinawan and Japanese.

Thanks to E.K., I am posting a list below of words in Japanese and Okinawan for comparison. Also, I found a helpful website here that compares Japanese and Okinawan, specifically the official “Naha” dialect. The page is Japanese only, sorry.

Okinawan is usually written in either Katakana or in Chinese Characters, so I am posting both where possible, plus Romanization. Hopefully, in time I will try to add other dialects to this page such as Yaeyama dialect, Miyako dialect, and others.

Update: Found some information on the Yaeyama dialect as well. Updated table below, but information is incomplete and hard to find. If anyone can verify or correct information here, I’d be grateful. 🙂

Yaeyama Okinawan Japanese Meaning
Misharoru neeraa
ミシャロルネーラー
Haisai (male), Haitai (female)
ハイサイ・ハイサイ
Konnichiwa
こんにちは
Hello
  Hajimiti Uganabira
ハジミティウガナビラ
Hajimemashite
はじめまして
Nice to meet you
Ooritoori
オーリトーリ
Mensoore
メンソーレ
Irasshaimase
いっらしゃいませ
Welcome! Said when entering a restaurant.
Ganjuu?
ガンジュー?
Ganjuu?
ガンジュー?
Ogenki Desu Ka?
お元気ですか?
How are you? (Polite, formal)
Nifaiyuu
ニーファイユー
Nifee Deebiru
ニフェーデービル
Arigatou Gozaimasu
ありがとうございます
Thank you very much
  Kwacchii Sabira
クヮッチーサビラ
Itadakimasu
いただきます
Said before eating (lit. “I humbly receive”)
  Kwacchii Sabitan
クワッチーサビタン
Gochisousama [Deshita]
ごちそうさま
Said after eating (lit. “It was a feast”)
  Ikiga
イキガ・男
Otoko
おとこ・男
Man, male
  Inagu
イナグ・女
Onna
おんな・女
Woman, female
  Dushi
ドゥシ・友達
Tomodachi
ともだち・友達
Friend(s)
Daikuni
ダイクニ
Deeku
デーク
Daikon
大根
Daikon radishes
  Saataa
サーター・砂糖
Satou
さとう・砂糖
Sugar
Apparishan
アッパリシャーン
Chuura
チューラ
Utsukushii
美しい
Beautiful
Sanishan
サニシャン
Ussan/umassa
ウッサン・ウムッサ
Ureshii
嬉しい
Happy
  Chimujurasan
チムジュラサン
Yasashii
優しい
Kind, friendly
Maasan
マーサン
Maasaiibin
マーサイビーン
Oishii
美味しい
Delicious, tasty
Yuntaku
ユンタク
Yuntaku
ユンタク
Oshaberi
おしゃべり
Talkative, chatty

It’s interesting how some phrases sound fairly similar to each other, while others sound completely different.

P.S. For reference, another Japanese/Okinawan dictionary.

1 Even in Japanese, there’s considerable debate about how they compare with each other.

2 Don’t forget that the Ryukyu Islands (Ryūkyū-shotō, 琉球諸島) were a separate kingdom and culture until the 1800’s.

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Author: Doug

A fellow who dwells upon the Pale Blue Dot who spends his days obsessing over things like Buddhism, KPop music, foreign languages, BSD UNIX and science fiction.

8 thoughts on “Comparing Japanese and Okinawan”

  1. Woah, thanks for the Yaeyama info! My in-laws will definitely appreciate if I can speak some. Both sides of the family are originally from Hateruma, so someday I’d like to research that as well.

    If you’re really ambitious, look into the Hougens for Miyako-Jima and Yonaguni. Miyako is considered the oddball of the bunch and one of the most complicated of all forms of Uchinaaguchi. Yonaguni seems to have a bit in common with native Taiwanese.

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    1. Hi Eric,

      Yaeyama was awfully hard to find, and some pages seemed to contradict each other, or get phrases mixed up with Okinawa dialect, so I am not 100% sure these are accurate. But I did my best. :-p

      Yeah, I saw some cursory info on Miyako dialect and you’re right. It’s definitely a little different. Yonagumi also has that Taiwanese influence, but finding books or sources on either one is proving harder than I thought. If I can poke around on Amazon JP or somethnig, I bet I can at least find a book or two on 琉球語. 😉

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  2. I first started paying attention to the Okinawan language several years ago. I bought a CD to listen to on my CD Walkman (remember those?) just before getting on a trans Pacific flight. The album was by the Nenes and the title was Ashibi. That is, in Japanese, Asobi. For Japanese, asobi has a connotation of being silly and a waste of time, I learned that for Okinawans, taking a sanshin (shamisen) to the beach for singing and dancing was called ashibi. Listening to the CD and reading the lyrics sheet, I was fascinated by the Okinawan readings of kanji and so on. The Nenes are not around any more, but the album got me interested in Okinawan music.

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    1. Hi Johnl,

      Ashibi/Asobi, another example of how they’re related languages, but different. 🙂

      I’ve actually never heard of Okinawan music, so I may have to check some out. I spend too much time either listening to KPop or soundtracks. 😉

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  3. たびやはまやどぅり、くさぬふぁぬまくら
    にてぃんわすぃららん わやぬうすば
    ちぢゅややはまをゐてちゅゐなちゅゐな
    たびやどぅぬにざみ まくらすばだてぃてぃ
    うびじゃしゅさんかし ゆわぬつぃらさ
    ちぢゅややはまをゐてちゅゐなちゅゐな

    とぅけやふぃざみてぃん てぃるつちやふぃとぅち
    あまんながみゆら きゆぬすらや
    ちぢゅややはまをゐてちゅゐなちゅゐな

    旅や浜宿り 草の葉の枕
    寝ても忘ららぬ 我親の御側
    千鳥や浜居てちゅゐなちゅゐな

    旅宿の寝覚め 枕側立てて
    覚出すさ昔 夜半のつらさ
    千鳥や浜居てちゅゐなちゅゐな

    渡海や隔めても 照る月や一つ
    あまん眺みゆら 今宵の空や
    千鳥や浜居てちゅゐなちゅゐな

    大和訳

    旅は浜に宿り、草の葉を枕に寝ているが、寝ても忘れられないのは、親の側で暮らしていたことである。千鳥が浜に居てちゅうちゅう鳴いている。
    旅宿の夜半、目が覚めて枕を側立てていると、昔のことが思い出されて辛くなる。千鳥が浜に居てちゅうちゅう鳴いている
    海を遠く隔てていても、照る月は一つである。あの方も眺めているのであろうか、今宵の月を。千鳥が浜に居てちゅうちゅう鳴いている。

    Like

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